Exercising at night, or not making the perfect the enemy of the good

IMG_0201When people tell me they would like to start exercising, I often suggest mornings. For many people, it is the best time. When you exercise early, the day cannot get away from you with crises precluding a workout. There are a lot fewer work emergencies at 6:00 a.m. vs. 6:00 p.m. We tend to have the most willpower in the morning, and you only have to shower once.

But over the past few weeks I have been experimenting with a different option: post-dinner, post-baby bedtime. It has worked better than I thought it would on the nights I try it, as long as I remember that something is better than nothing.

I started trying evening exercise as a logical extension from my nap-time cue. Since I have been on solo toddler duty on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during ski season, when he goes down for a nap, I try to hop on the treadmill. Other things may or may not get done before he wakes up, but at least I will exercise.

I aim to exercise in the afternoons during the work week, but when that did not happen for a few days, I realized that his bedtime could be a cue too.

There are practical arguments against it. I am kind of tired by evening. I have generally eaten dinner, likely with a glass of wine. The baby may be in bed but the big kids are still around. And will evening exercise keep me awake?

But when I tried getting on the treadmill at 8:00 p.m., I realized that none of these arguments precluded doing something. An hour after eating I am perfectly capable of running, as long as I have not stuffed myself. The glass of wine is likewise mostly processed. A bonus: I am not worried about being sweaty for any later video calls or meetings.

I do not run for long. Last night I ran for a grand total of 20 minutes (I aim to do at least 2 miles — that was with intervals up to 9.2 mph, including one 90-second dash at 9.0). That said, I find the treadmill tedious enough that I seldom go much longer than 30 minutes anyway. I was also interrupted twice during those 20 minutes by children requiring something. This was annoying, but since I was doing intervals, I chose to view those breaks as, well, rest breaks. As for sleeping, these days I pop a melatonin before bed, so I tend to go down pretty easy.

The 8:00 p.m. slot is not my favorite. But if I have not run during the day, seizing it is the difference between exercising that day and not exercising that day. There are 3 hours between when the baby goes down at 7:30 p.m. and when I go down at 10:30 p.m. Using 20-30 minutes to exercise is a way to maximize this time while preserving babysitting hours for work.

Have you ever exercised at night? What is your verdict?

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30 thoughts on “Exercising at night, or not making the perfect the enemy of the good

  1. I always exercise at night. I’ve tried the morning exercise thing, and it doesn’t work as well for me because I could always concoct some sort of excuse while in the comfort of my bed.

    Immediately after work, I pick up the toddler from preschool, and we go directly to the gym. My gym has a daycare/play area. I exercise for an hour, usually meeting my spouse there, and we play in the pool for a while as a family. We’re usually home and eating dinner by 7:30. This I know is late, but the toddler typically doesn’t get to bed until a little past 9 anyway.

    1. If it can make you feel better about the toddler dinner time, just think cross-culturally… We, in France, would not consider having dinner before 20h00-20h30. And we usually share all our meals with the kids – no matter their age… So French toddlers are not having dinner at 18h00 and they are pretty much all surviving. You’re basically raising your kid as a citizen of the world. How great is that!

      1. Ha! Good point. I figure that if toddler is doing fine, I’m not going to worry about the time dinner is served. If he is truly starving, there are snacks (a very un-French thing!) at the daycare to tide him over.

  2. In the good weather (ie not winter) I go for a walk at night after my kids are in bed. It’s not hardcore exercise but it is 2 miles that I enjoy.

  3. Ive been pondering this very question for a few months now. I have always been a morning person. I used to get up early before work, normally around 6am but sometimes even 5.30am, without any problem. But the idea of exercising after 6pm is soooo off putting. However my two children are also morning people and so that window of me-time has slammed shut. Iv been trying to psych myself up to exercise in the evening after they go to bed at 7.30… Especially on the nights my husband travels so I really have nothing else on… But ughhh the idea of it!! Normally you hear people finding it difficult to exercise in the mornings but id rather do that 7 days a week than even 1 day of evening exercise
    But its a habit i’ll just have to develop because its either that or nothing. I am definitely guilty of letting perfect be the enemy of good, which is another thing I’ll have to get rid of as small children rarely allow anything to be perfect!

  4. I was JUST thinking about this. I am a hardcore morning exerciser BUT so is my husband, so we alternate the mornings going to the gym super early and then sleeping in a bit and getting the kids breakfast. I COULD get up early on my non-gym days and do some sort of exercise at home but ugh. I’ve gotten really into doing group exercise classes, and the idea of doing some online video at home in the freezing basement doesn’t really appeal (we sold our elliptical, weight bench, etc… and our “work-out room” is now the boys’ playroom and the entire floor is covered in legos). I noticed there are some new evening classes at the Y and I’m seriously thinking about trying to go to at least one evening class per week. I could either eat a snack and have dinner later or have a lighter dinner (maybe skip the wine!) on those days.
    I started taking melatonin recently, too…but I was told (by my therapist, who had originally recommended it) that you shouldn’t take it daily because you become “dependent” on it to sleep—not sure I believe that and haven’t had a chance to look into it further to see where that claim came from.

    1. The dependence can behavioral as well as pharmacologic. If you start to think you need a pill to go to sleep, you might start to need it, even if it’s a placebo.

      Personally, I like zyrtec

      1. zyrtec (or allegra, or claritin) makes me super sleepy too. like hung over groggy in the morning. i know they are supposed to be ‘non drowsy’ but i have no idea how some people (including josh) take them daily.

        1. I’ve tried pretty much all sleep meds out there.

          Melatonin backfires. Ambien gives me weird side effects. Xanax knocks me out for too short a time and then I’m druggy the next day. Benadryl starts good and then turns into never falling asleep. Unisom is awesome. Lunesta is divine. At this point I’m sure I’m addicted. I’m not sure I care. I’m sleeing better than I have my ENTIRE adult life.

          My son is on 1 mg melatonin, per sleep specialist. I do want to wean him off it…we’ll see what they say on FRiday.

        2. OMG, this totally explains why my husband is so sleepy during allergy season. We kept thinking it couldn’t be the Zyrtec since the package (and his doc) says it’s non-drowsy…

    2. @Ana – are there downsides to prolonged use? I interviewed a sleep doctor not long ago who said he took it regularly. The point was that most of us are overexposed to light at night just because of modern life. The melatonin is to get more back to “normal.” I go to bed earlier than I naturally would these days, due to the early wake-ups. So the melatonin is part of making that possible.

  5. Yes! I tried this last week after my 4 month old (she of the erratic bedtime) went down at 7:30 pm. Did I feel like running on the treadmill in the basement at 8 pm? not really. But it was the only exercise I managed to do during the workweek, and I was glad I did. I just don’t have any more time to give for morning exercise…

  6. I’ve been doing a Crossfit class at 7:30 PM a few times a week. My baby goes to bed at 7 and the oldest at 7:30, so my husband only has to handle putting one to bed, and it gets me through bath time with both. While I have definitely found it harder to motivate than going in the morning, I find that I have a much more enjoyable workout because 1) I’ve spent quality time with both kids after work, 2) I don’t need to be anywhere after class (school drop-off, work, meeting, etc.) so my mind’s not drifting ahead to my to-do list, and 3) I shower and wash my hair before I go to bed, which frees up some precious time in the morning. I’m looking forward to daylight savings because I think it will be even nicer to get to the gym when it’s still light out!

    1. @Chelsea – I am looking forward to daylight savings in general! The idea of being able to walk around outside at night in the light is so appealing. Ah well, few more weeks…

  7. The last thing I want to do after my child’s bedtime is exercise! Too tired!

    The thing that works for me is to build the exercise into my day. For me that means walking my child to preschool (10 minutes each way). This time of year is extra fun because I get to push the stroller through the snow. With a little one and a full-time job plus commute, I manage to approach 10,000 steps a day just by walking to/from school and parking lot. Plus I take a short walking break each hour.

  8. I’ve recently switched to after-work exercise instead of morning – I definitely prefer mornings but yes, even though it’s not perfect, afternoons are better than nothing! An added bonus is that I need to pay more attention to my diet if I run in the afternoon – a skipped lunch or a greasy takeaway lunch both make for a less pleasant workout. I don’t always like running outside after work (too much traffic compared to the calm stillness of early mornings) but watching trashy tv on the treadmill at the gym is a great afternoon motivator.

  9. ugh, i did the evening workouts when annabel was very little and honestly. . . i really don’t look back on that fondly even now! something about my body just really doesn’t agree with intense activity at night. i’d rather run (or work out) at 4 am than 8 pm. however – i will make an exception for a well-timed (not SUPER cardio-intense) group class (like I did used to go to 6:30 pm barre and maybe i’ll start again).

    1. @SHU- I’m not fond of it, but I tell myself I don’t have to do much. And when the day was as chopped up as today was (snow delay, technician visit, bunch of calls, piano lesson, driving son to swim…) I go with what I can.

  10. I exercise generally mid-day, when i’m hitting a slump with a writing project and need to switch gears. On weekends I occasionally take a walk solo with the big one watches the little one. This is a new thing, But I like it.

    Bedtime exercise is not happening in my world

    1. @gwinne- I like doing it mid-day too during what would be a natural break. I think that will make more sense when the weather gets nicer and I want to be outside during the day!

  11. Ha, this made me laugh because one of the things that finally worked in allowing me to add running (jogging, really) to my life on a regular and reliable basis was embracing the fact that I am simply not going to do it before noon. In the summertime in the South, that can mean I’m doing it quite late (to avoid the heat; I run outside), like 10 or 11 at night. Works great for me. I am not a morning person, at all. I went for a run tonight at about 8 (not after kid bedtime by any stretch, but DH had taken DS to bball practice), and it was great.

  12. I don’t have kids, so my routine is different and I have less responsibilities but I’ve been doing a 7:30pm bar class two weekday evenings per week and one on the weekends late morning for a few months now and it works for me. I eat dinner after (studio is a 3 minute walk from home and my husband makes dinner). I don’t think I could do morning exercise. I would be worried about passing out without a decent breakfast and I hate eating right when I wake up.

  13. I recently started exercising more at night as part of my personal yoga challenge of taking a yoga class every day in January. I was hesitant about late night classes (7:30 PM, and my bedtime is 9:00 PM), but I found that once I dragged myself to class it was relaxing and because yoga class includes a wind down at the end I’d come home ready for shower and bed. I’ve been sleeping much better, I have more energy in the morning and start on work early, and watch less TV. It’s been great and I’m keeping it up 3-4 nights a week. I’m unable to do good thinking work at night anyway, so I might as well be exercising.

  14. I hate working out in the morning. I have done it for brief periods in my life. First – I feel like I have to go to bed WAY too early in order to get enough sleep before waking up at 5 AM. This results in me typically not getting quite enough sleep (even if I go to bed at a reasonable hour like 10:30 – that’s only 6.5 h). Second – the workouts I do are very demanding on my body, and I just feel so cold that early in the morning – my muscles are cold, my joints are stiff… so the workout ends up being less pleasant and effective. Third – even if I do get enough sleep, instead of feeling “energized” after working out, I often end up crashing later in the morning. I don’t think these arguments would necessarily apply to say, a morning job, but they do to weight/circuit training.

    My preference now is to workout after work, but before dinner. This way it still happens before I get home and get into “the day is over” mode, but then when I’m done all I have to do is go home, eat dinner, and put on PJs. If I still have energy, I can get some work done after the kids are in bed.

    If needed, I would definitely work out later at night (7-8 PM). Not as ideal as 5-6 PM, but way better than the morning.

  15. After having baby #2 and returning to work (BigLaw) I started doing Insanity at night and got into fantastic shape. That said, it meant I wasn’t getting to bed until midnight, didn’t have time with my husband, and needed to wash/blowdry hair on a daily basis. Once work travel kicked in, the habit stopped. It was nice while it lasted, but the evening sacrifices were a bit too much.

  16. I’m not a morning person at all. I know you said in a recent post that one can train oneself. I don’t buy that at all; I read in Better than Before that research shows morning people don’t become night owls and night owls don’t become morning people.

    So I exercise after work at 6.30 or 7. If I didn’t exercise then, I’d never exercise. It helps me to get some stress relief after work and I actually feel awake enough to enjoy it.

    I tried a few sessions with a personal trainer in the morning but it was more torturous than after work simply because I’m not awake yet, so now I’m “Being Marcia” 🙂

  17. I am very much a morning person, which is exactly why I don’t like to exercise in the morning. Instead, I focus on getting some work done. I already have to dilute the morning hours with prepping kids for school and self for work and chauffeuring, I don’t want to waste more of these good, high-energy hours on exercise, showering etc and thus further postpone peak work hours (did it for a while, hated it). Whenever I tried to work out super early, the kids would also wake up and then my husband would have to do the morning, which he hates as he is very much not a morning person and sucks at life before 1 pm. So, most definitely not the morning for me.

    Instead, I now do kickboxing 3x a week, 4:30-5:15, which is early enough to still manage to pick up the youngest two from daycare by 5:45, and it’s late enough that I don’t have to leave work too early (I also work some in the evenings and on weekends).

  18. I try to batch my exercise into when my kids are at activity. My children are 13, 10, and 8. We spend a lot of time at ball fields (4x a week) While they are practicing, I walk with ankle weights, climb stairs, and do kickbacks. When my children are at scout meetings (3x a week), I have a set of hand weights in the car and do a 20 minute hand weight routine. The children aren’t missing any mommy time because they are engaged and I get to fit a little exercise in!

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